The Latest Intelligence from Brussels

on April 1 | in Homeland Security

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Brussels/Belgium

Belgium is one of the top nations sending Western European fighters in Syria.

– Days after the Paris attacks the Belgian government announced 18 new counterterrorism measures, though a majority of those steps have not been implemented. One measure would allow 24hr house searches in terrorism investigations. Previously house searches were prohibited between 9pm and 5am.

– Before the Belgian parliament votes on measures like these, it must first be cleared by Belgium’s privacy authority. That said, Belgium is said to have a “completely outdated” procedure for criminal investigations. Once an investigation into a terrorist case begins, Belgian security services are removed from the process, and no information revealed in the investigation is passed to them.

– Currently, Belgian intelligence service are not allowed to surveil the phones of suspected terrorists, nor are they allowed hack suspected terrorist’s phones or computers.

– Belgium has a population of around 11 million, yet they only spend close to 56 million on intelligence services. Staffing issues have been pointed to as part of the problem. Belgian federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw said that prosecutors opened 315 new terrorism cases in 2015 alone and have already opened 60 new cases this year.

-According to The Guardian, “Belgian security services appeared–despite the quality of many individual officials–overwhelmed. It was revealed that a few hundred agents were supposed to watch over thousands of potential militants. ‘We are simply exhausted,’ one senior security official said in an email.”

 

Belgium is “plagued by social rifts and rivalry between jurisdictions.” For example, Brussels has six police forces but each one answers to a different mayor.

– Security at the airport was inadequate. Authorities had conducted tests on finding bombs in carry-on luggage, but the results showed that in some of the rounds half the bombs were not detected. There were also reports of fences around the airport with holes in them.
Europe

Law enforcement agencies throughout Europe do not cooperated effectively and because of the Schengen Area, people are allowed to cross borders with ease.

The nations that make up the Schengen Area do not have a cross-border security force or intelligence agency to ensure individuals being investigated in one country are flagged in a neighboring country.

– Some policymakers have called for a cross-national European equivalent of the FBI, others are in favor of a “passenger name record” database for all those travel across borders. However, critics say these would violate privacy.

– The only system in place now is the Schengen Information System (SIS), a database intended to enable authorities to share information on people who are considered to be threats. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for countries to put information into the database, nor is there any guidelines as to what information should be put in the SIS. Trust issues also exist when it comes to the SIS.

Missed Opportunities

Local Belgian police in the town of Mechelen said they had the address of a possible safehouse connected to Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam since December, but did not upload the address into a national police database. Abdeslam was captured at that address on March 18th, four months after the Paris attack. Four months of freedom likely allowed him to further plan, or speed up plans, for an attack in Belgium.

Belgian prosecutors say that authorities missed an opportunity to further question Abdeslam in the days just before the attacks in Brussels. After Abdeslam was arrested on March 18th, he was questioned solely on issues regarding the Paris attacks. He was not questioned again until after the Brussels attacks, during which he refused to speak. Investigators failed to ask him about plans for future attacks during their first interrogation.  

One of the Belgian suicide bombers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was detained in Turkey last summer on suspicion of being an Islamic State fighter. However, he was deported to the Netherlands after Belgian counterparts couldn’t establish that he had links to ISIS.

The two other suicide bombers, Najim Laachraoui and Khalid el-Bakraoui, were known by Belgian police for their connection to the Paris attack, both were targets of international arrest warrants on terrorism charges.

The first signs that Laachraoui might have become radicalized came nearly three years ago when his parents notified Belgian authorities they received a call from him saying he had moved to Syria. Belgian authorities responded to the information by beginning a judicial investigation and eventually accusing Laachraoui of being a recruiter of youth for radical groups in Syria.

– Khalid el-Bakraoui had an extensive criminal record, including a case of armed carjacking, and had been described by a lawyer as having a “forceful personality,” but “not at all radicalized.” Authorities had grounds to arrest him since last May for violating his parole, but his name wasn’t added to a national list of fugitives until August.

 

Photo: U.S

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. Secretary of State John Kerry crosses himself after laying a wreath at Brussels National Airport in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25, 2016, while visiting the terminal attacked by terrorists earlier in the week while paying condolences on behalf of the American people following the twin terrorists attacks on the city and country. (Department of State)

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